Rafale deal: France initiates fresh probe into allegations of corruptiontext_fields
Paris: In France, a judge has been appointed to lead a judicial probe into alleged corruption, money laundering, favouritism and unwarranted tax waivers in the 7.8 million euro sale of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft, reports The Wire.
The probe was formally opened on June 4th after the French public prosecution services' financial branch, PNF, decided to investigate. The deal involved France's Dassault Aviation, the Government of India and the Anil Ambani group.
The Wire believes that the new development would reignite demands for an independent probe in India, stamping a setback for the ruling BJP government.
The criminal investigation is to dig into the actions of Francois Hollande, Emmanuel Macron and Jean-Yves Le Drian, who were France's then-president, economy-finance minister and defence minister, respectively. Out of the three, Macron is the president, and Le Drian holds foreign affairs office right now.
It also might examine the nature of the association of Dassault Aviation and Anil Ambani's Reliance Group.
According to reports, in 2017, Dassault and Reliance industries signed the Dassault Reliance Aerospace Limited (DRAL), in which the former has 49% stake, and the latter has 51%. But in the case of funding the project, Dassault has paid 159 of the 169 million Euros, and Reliance invested only the rest. This seemed somewhat inappropriate.
Though Dassault Aviation has not responded yet to any of the latest developments, the company has constantly denied any level of wrongdoings and kept its stand that it complies with the OECD Anti Bribery Convention and national laws of France.
A fresh probe is rooted in a series of investigative reports published by Mediapart in April this year about the intergovernmental deal, which also included a role of an Indian middleman the Enforcement Directorate of India was aware of and didn't bother to investigate further.
Following the publishing of Mediapart reports, the French anti-corruption NGO, Sherpa, had filed a complaint at the tribunal of Paris alleging corruption, money laundering, favouritism and unwarranted tax waivers regarding the Rafale deal.
However, PNF's new decision to probe is a stark contrast to its stand in 2019, when Eliane Houlette, then PNF head, dismissed Sherpa's initial complaint without carrying out any investigations. She justified her decision by saying that "to preserve the interests of France".
It was in 2007, the UPA government released tender for fighter jets, and in 2012 Dassault took it for their Rafale aircraft. According to the first negotiations, 126 units were promised in the deal in which 18 were provided as "flyaway", and the rest will be built in India by HAL with Dassault's assistance. In April 2015, the contract was scrapped. It was reported that two weeks after an MoU signed by Dassault and Reliance Group, India's PM Narendra Modi announced the scrapping of the original Rafale deal of 126 jets and the new arrangement of 36 Rafale fighters at "flyaway" condition. Also, the new agreement has no reference to HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited), which was actually in negotiation with Dassault regarding the original version of the deal.
In 2018, after petitions mounted before the Supreme Court of India regarding the Modi government's Rafale deal with allegations such as corruption, the court dismissed the petitions seeking a court-monitored probe, saying that there was nothing to doubt regarding decision making in the deal. The bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi said that it was not the court's job to go into issues of pricing fighter planes. In late 2019, the court had again dismissed review petitions on Rafale jet deals.